Tag Archives: Israel

Running the Rapids with Jesus

Before you even get in the raft, the white water guide begins to establish his or her authority and control.  In the early stages of the float trip they work hard to make sure everyone knows what to do, practicing the commands over and over.  “Back-paddle!”  “Right turn!”  “Let’s do it again!”  Why?  White water!  There’s rapids downstream and, when they get to them, it’s too late to begin figuring out what to do.  The idea is for everyone to be alert, trained and ready to respond quickly, without panic.  Even if the raft seems about to flip.

Jesus told the folks in His raft they would eventually confront dangerous rapids.  When they asked how they could know the end of the age was approaching, He didn’t mince words.  Instead, He prepared them (and us).   You can read what He told them in the 24th Chapter of Matthew, but here are some excepts of what He said:

Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you.  For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many.

In other words, “When things get dicey, make sure you listen to my commands and not anyone else.”

“You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. 

In other words, “When you hear the roar of the rapids, don’t freak out;  I have told you this trip winds up in white water so keep your heads.”

“Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.   –  (Matthew 24:4–13 Excerpts – NIV84)

In other words, “Don’t be surprised at how violent the rapids will seem.  You may even get tossed out of the raft.  But remember to trust me.  Do what I say and you will come through just fine.”

Human history is filled with failed attempts to make our world better as we strive for utopia.  People even held the hope that World War I would serve to end all future wars.  No matter how or what we try, we have not succeeded in eradicating evil.  As we see the rise of ISIS, Russia’s alliances with wicked dictators and nations who pledge the destruction of Israel, it might seem discouraging and frightening.

But these kinds of events have been foretold in Scripture.  Jesus never whitewashed the truth: wickedness will increase as the age continues toward the end.  But He also said,  “see to it you are not alarmed.”  And, “don’t listen to others who will lead you astray.”  And, “stand firm in your faith and you will be saved.”

Oh Shoot

If Iran gets a nuke, would God stand by and let them wipe Israel off the map?  He let it happen before, about 2700 years ago. God had planned to use Israel to bless other nations as a living demonstration of how much better life works when you pay attention to the real God,  But, when they turned away and began to follow the gods and customs of their neighbors (now called Iran, Iraq and Syria), He allowed those countries to literally wipe His people off the map.  Almost.  God had not given up on His original plan.  Speaking through Isaiah, He said:

” A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse [i.e. Israel]; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1, my explanation of “Jesse.”)

My neighbor got fed up with his apple tree.  You couldn’t eat the apples and it messed up his yard in the fall.  Here’s a picture of what used to be his apple tree:  .wpid-wp-1430490990902.jpg

It looks a bit like Israel did after they stopped  producing the kind of “fruit” God had intended.  But look very closely at the bottom, left corner of the picture.   Here’s a blow up:

wpid-wp-1430490977197.jpg

 

That’s a shoot, coming up from the stump of his apple tree.  You have to look carefully to even notice it.  To the casual observer it doesn’t look like it will amount to much.

 

You could make the same mistake when it comes to Jesus, the “Shoot” Who sprouted from the “stump” of God’s Chosen People.  You might miss Him, such a seemingly insignificant figure, compared to the might and grandeur of Rome.  But Rome has fallen and the “Shoot” is still growing.  Jesus is still blessing people of all nations who come to Him to be reconciled to God.  He is “bearing the fruit” of leading people to the real God.  Here’s more of what Isaiah wrote:

” A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.” (Isaiah 11:1-5)

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

 

Just the Name

Iraq and Iran attacked the northern part of Israel, trying to conquer it.  Israel fought back, after making an alliance with a part of Syria.  To strengthen their forces they also asked Judah to fight with them.  Who?  Judah was a small part of the original nation of Israel, the only part left after the north seceded in a civil war.  They even lost the name, Israel, to the north.  Anyhow, when they won’t join the fight, they get attacked by their former brothers.

Sound like the future?  Nope, it was the past – roughly 2750 years ago.  The more things change…

Anyhow, the King of Judah decides to join forces with Iraq (then called Assyria) to protect himself from Israel and Syria (then called Aram).  He calls for his Secretary of What God Says to Do (wouldn’t it be great if we still had one of those?), a guy named Isaiah, who tells him, “God says don’t do it; He will keep you safe.”  The armies are marching, and the King is getting nervous.  And skeptical.

So Isaiah says, “God offers to prove it to you; ask Him for a sign – anything!”  The King thinks this has gotten weird; he is wasting time.  He’s got to strike a deal with Assyria before its too late.  So he says, “Thanks anyway…”

So, the Secretary of What God Says to Do says,

“...If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all.’ ”” (Isaiah 7:9b)

And then this:

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14)

The king did not “stand firm in his faith” and missed the sign. Eventually both parts of Israel were wiped off the face of the map.  For a time.

But you don’t need to miss it.  You don’t need to know all the history, Just the name of the child.  You just need to know Who He was.  “Immanuel” means, God has come to live with us.

Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.

According to Plan

Was Jesus racist?  it sounded like it when He first sent out His apostles.

“These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:5-6)

Why only tell Israel?  Didn’t the other nations deserve to hear the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven?  It was not that He cared about them more than the other nations.  To the contrary, Jesus’ ultimate goal was to give the invitation and opportunity to everyone on earth.  As He explained to His disciples, late in His ministry:

“And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” (Matthew 24:14)

So, why did Jesus send His disciples only to the people of Israel in the beginning?  it was how God’s plan was designed to work.  When you split wood, you can’t use a sledgehammer.  You must hit the wood with a sharp point and then gradually spread the force outward.  When you start a fire, you cannot pile all the wood on at once and try to light a log with your match.  You must start small, with carefully prepared kindling.

For 2000 years, through the times of Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah and Daniel (to name but a few), God carefully prepared Israel to “get it” when Jesus would come.  Their history and cultural DNA gave them the context to understand His message, His sacrifice and His offer of redemption.  All these things had explained to Israel through their prophets and other sacred writings.  When Jesus struck His “match,” it needed to be applied to the kindling of the “lost sheep of Israel.”  For more about that strategy, see “Sourdough Theology.”

Expert professionals sometimes do things that seem illogical or counterproductive to us,  But then those things work and we think, “Hey, they really do know what they are doing.  In a similar way, I am awestruck by how God’s plan to rescue all peoples by choosing one people, revealed many hundreds of years in advance, was applied, unchanged, by Jesus,   After His resurrection, Jesus reiterated how the plan would work:

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”” (Acts 1:8)

Their small, local witness, would gradually expand outward, until all the world had heard the News.  That original plan continues to work, 2000 years later.

Perhaps God really does know what He is doing…

Back to Square One

Israel is surrounded by hostile nations, several of whom have pledged to wipe her from the face of the earth.  Pray for her.  But don’t be surprised.  God’s plan to rescue the earth from the grip of evil began there and it will end there – at Israel.

When God called Abraham, pledging that all nations would be blessed through him, He relocated Abraham to the land now known as Israel.

” The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1)

When Abraham’s descendants had later become enslaved in Egypt for 400 years, God sent Moses to take them back to the land, the land of Israel.

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’” (Exodus 33:1)

When God sent His Son as the Savior, He was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, began His ministry in Galilee and was crucified and raised in Jerusalem – all located in the land of Israel.

Jesus’ second coming is prophesied to be associated with a gathering of hostile nations, led by evil forces, who will surround His people and attack, at Armageddon, “the mountain of Megiddo,” – in Israel.

“…They [demonic spirits] go out to the kings of the whole world, to gather them for the battle on the great day of God Almighty. “Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed.” Then they gathered the kings together to the place that in Hebrew is called Armageddon.” (Revelation 16:14-16)

Is the rocket attack by Hamas and the ongoing ground war the beginning of those prophesied hostilities?  I don’t know.  I do know, when it comes, it will happen in Israel.  And I know Jesus warned us to “stay awake,” clothed (with His salvation) and ready.  There have been many times when it seemed as though His coming, and the final battle, would occur soon.  Since 1948, they have been literally centered on Israel.  This was all foretold with astonishing accuracy, beginning roughly 4000 years ago.  God’s plan began and will end in Israel.

Get ready.  If you have not made a decision about Jesus, please do not put it off.  For more information on that, see “Accepting the Gift.”

And please pray: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth…”

The Same Plan

There was no Plan B.  God’s plan in choosing Israel was to bless “all peoples” (Genesis 12:3).  There is evidence throughout the Bible that this plan has not changed.  It is a strong theme that ties the Old and New Testament together.  Here is an example of that from the prophet, Isaiah, who lived roughly 1000 years after Abraham and 700 years before Jesus:

” This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem: In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. Many peoples will come and say, “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob. He will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths.” The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:1-3)

Isaiah used the word, mountains, to symbolize nations or people groups.  Notice that the plan was for “all nations” to be attracted to “the God of Jacob” (Israel) and to learn “His ways, so that we might walk in His paths.”  God’s blessing comes to those who discover that life works best when they follow the “Manufacturer’s instructions.”  God’s plan is for “many peoples,” “all peoples,” to recognize this simple truth and live by it.  When this plan is fully accomplished, Isaiah foresees international peace!

“…They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4b)

And, with that goal in mind, that he urges the people of Israel:

“Come, O house of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” (Isaiah 2:5)

They could not do it.  Despite being chosen and uniquely blessed, Israel could not bring themselves to “walk in the light of the Lord.”  Nevertheless, God’s plan continued, unchanged, through Jesus.  Born to the people of Israel, He was the “word of the Lord” that would go out from Jerusalem!  Amazing…

Sourdough Theology

Why would a loving and just God have a “Chosen People?”   What is so special about Israel?  Does God play favorites?  It seems petty for God to focus His attention on one small tribe – just one man, originally.  What about everybody else?  Isn’t this a sure example of how the Old Testament God is nothing like the God of the New Testament, the God Who “causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”? (Matthew 5:45)

To examine this, look carefully at what God said to Abram (later renamed Abraham) when He first called him:

” The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. “I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”” (Genesis 12:1-3)

When you bake sourdough bread, you begin by making starter.  Starter is made with ordinary ingredients – flour and water – but it requires a lot of special attention and It takes awhile.  You can’t use just any old container.  You can’t use chlorinated water.  You need to keep it warm but not too warm.  Periodically, you have to discard half of the starter and feed the rest.  But when you have good starter growing and bubbling, a small portion of it will cause a whole batch of bread to rise.

Israel was God’s “starter.”  He gave that small group of people special attention and required they follow special strict laws so that, like growing and bubbling starter, through them “all peoples on earth [would] be blessed.”  Read back through God’s call to Abram, thinking about sourdough starter, and reflect upon the history of Israel.  It’s amazing, really, after all they have been through, how many times they have been conquered, exiled, dispersed and slaughtered, how central they are to world events right now.  There is no other nation that compares.  Consider how the Jewish Messiah, Jesus, has spread His influence throughout “all peoples.”  God’s “Starter.”

No illustration works completely but I like the sourdough starter analogy for another reason.  God’s ways seem so mysterious to us.  Can you imagine, if each of us was a particle of rye flour in God’s bread bowl, with some of us in the starter and some of us added later, how we might have a few questions?  “Does God know what He is doing?  Why is He so particular?  Why does all this take so long?”

Maybe you think it’s time I got some professional help.  On the other hand, maybe it’s time to toast up a fat slab of sourdough with lots of butter and strawberry jam…  Either way, it’s time to recognize that the God of Israel loves you and has reached out to you through Jesus!